‘Thomas,’ ‘Teletubbies’ guru has bigscreen plan

Viselman's 'Oogieloves' aims to engage tots and their parents

After turning “Teletubbies” and “Thomas the Tank Engine” into major franchises, Kenn Viselman is skipping TV to introduce kids and families to a new cast of colorful characters, the Oogieloves.

Viselman, who launched his film shingle, Kenn Viselman Presents …, in 2009, is self-financing a slate of films to star the new characters, Goobie, Zoozie and Toofie, with “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure,” set to bow in theaters Aug. 29.

Rather than pairing up with a studio, Viselman is spending his own coin to produce, market and distribute the films, with sequels to unspool a year to 16 months apart.

First title is being backed with $30 million in P&A, with Viselman aiming to get the pic onto 3,000 screens, brokering playdates directly with exhibitors.

Viselman chose the release date (right before Labor Day) because “all the blockbusters will have come and gone and then this silly little film will come along.”

He said the pic aims to engage an underserved but potentially lucrative audience: young kids who are used to engaging with TV fare but aren’t seen as movie auds. His goal: “making entertainment for the youngest possible audience member.”

Separately, Viselman also is overseeing licensing and merchandising deals around the property with retailers. An additional $3 million advertising campaign will promote a plush-heavy toy line and merchandise to include apparel, food and bath and beauty products upon launch.

Viselman didn’t want “the aggravation” of dealing with a traditional distributor after realizing he could work around the system with his own financing and relationships with retailers and theater owners. Film will be released through Viselman’s distribution arm, which operates under The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co. and A Teenie Weenie Music Publishing Co., which will launch a series of comedies for teen and tween girls next and pre-school programming block “Millipede.”

He opted to go straight to theaters with the Oogieloves after determining that “there hasn’t been a hit in the kids business since the ‘Teletubbies.’ I didn’t want to start with a TV series. It’s impossible for a series to break through now. There’s a plethora of channels” and platforms stealing the attention of kids — from TV to videogames, internet and iPads.

Because of that, Viselman came up with a new strategy to introduce his Oogieloves.

The 83-minute musical, helmed by TV director Matthew Diamond (“So You Think You Can Dance”), is designed to encourage kids and adults to interact with the characters and get out of their seats to sing and dance along with the songs they hear, signaled by visual and auditory queues.

“The film demands attention,” Viselman said. “Kids are treated as if they’re the fourth Oogielove.”

Plot revolves around the quest to save a friend’s surprise birthday party after the last five magical balloons in Lovelyloveville are lost. Along the way, the Oogieloves meet characters played by Cloris Leachman, Carey Elwes, Chazz Palminteri, Toni Braxton, Christopher Lloyd and Jaime Pressly.

Viselman had wanted to produce a “Teletubbies” film, but after being turned down by its creators, he spent the past decade deconstructing the moviegoing experience for kids, and watching Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda’s exercise videos, which resulted in the Oogieloves.

“I’m obsessed with the idea that kids in America and around the world are getting fatter and fatter and wanted to come up with an active viewing — vs. passive viewing — experience,” he said. “Every project I do is an extension of a project I’ve done before. I try to look at the knowledge I’ve garnered and try to expand upon that.”

But with “The Oogieloves,” the idea is to create a new family franchise that Viselman can own outright, after generating $15 billion over the years as the marketing maven and producer of “Teletubbies” and “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

“I believe strongly in making great things for kids and families, but I also believe in making a lot of money while doing it,” Viselman said.

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